Père Lachaise

Last Thursday we headed off to Paris on the train.  It was a beautiful day and the weekend was full of promise.  This post is all about Thursday afternoon’s visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.  I took a load of photos, most of which I’ll show you here.

Our hotel was just a couple of blocks from the cemetery, which was very handy.  Oh, by the way, we stayed at MAMA Shelter, a strange name for a hotel, but kind of fits the style of the place.  It was a lovely modern cool and hip hotel.  Every room has it’s own iMac hanging on the wall.  ‘Nuff said.

I hadn’t been to this cemetery before but had always wanted to see it.  It was even more amazing and beautiful than I expected.  I highly recommend a visit here if you are in Paris.

The cemetery is 40 hectares in size (119 acres).  It rolls up and down hills and is paved with large square stones.  It’s not a place you can walk quickly through.  It’s meant for strolling gently and taking your time.  When we first walked in the gates we were greeted with streets of grave markers and little chapels.

In such a large place, you can walk around for a little while and not see anyone, but you also might run into a large tour group, or a group of tourists who have come to see specific graves sites.

We wandered around for a while, without a map, then found a map, and then our guide found us.  This funny little man with long hair, who at first seems like just another weirdo talking to himself and walking aimlessly.  Au contraire.  He’s a freelance tour guide who will show you all the famous graves with the expectation of a tip at the end.  We kind of latched on to each other and followed him for a good 30 minutes for which he earned 20 euros from DB.  Well worth it for entertainment value I thought.  Here he is walking in front of DB, heading to Chopin’s grave.

Here are the famous people’s graves we saw:

Dutch painter, Karl Appel, plain and simple:

Mime Marcel Marceau. Our guide explained that it is traditional to put small stones on Jewish graves:

Our guide also explained that the reason Chopin’s grave is so well maintained and has so many flowers all the time, is that the Polish government pays for such upkeep.  It was certainly the grave with the most fresh flowers:

Sarah Bernhardt:

The reason that Jim Morrison is here is because he died in Paris.  Our guide explained that the only way you can be buried here is if you die in Paris.  You also have to pay (today) 20,000 euros for the plot of land and you only rent it for 100 years.  After that, unless you are on the list of famous people, you are dug up and cremated and make room for the next person.

Oscar Wilde had the most unique looking grave marker.  It was really beautiful.  Visitors kissed it with red lipstick.

There were a lot of graves sites that we took photos of just because they were interesting or macabre.  The one at the top of this post is my favorite.  Here are a few more:

In the end we were reminded that this is a real cemetery with people being buried every day here.  While standing in front of Oscar Wilde’s grave, a family dressed in black walked solemnly past, to the end of the row, where their loved-one was being buried.  It was such a strange juxtaposition – the loud and laughing tourists, and the solemn family.   I watched them quietly walk by and, hopefully without any harm, took their picture.  I wanted to capture the new as well as the old.

Go visit Père Lachaise.  Cemeteries are often the most beautiful places in a city.

One thought on “Père Lachaise

  1. Tobey July 5, 2009 / 03:52

    The first time I visited my brother and his family while they were living in Louisville,KY he made sure we went to Cave Hill Cemetery. How beautiful! A small spring-fed lake, swans, sculpture, and ancient trees make a peaceful resting place for loved ones.

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